The Manicktala bus stand on an early Saturday morning in October saw a motley crowd of Calcuttans gather in an upbeat mood to explore on a whirlwind tour, a slice of the immense richness of the literary heritage of the city, which has somehow been overwhelmed by the surge of the Potter, Cullen and Grey fans.
The walk was led by eminent travel writer and heritage enthusiast Amitabha Sengupta, a gentleman I shall remember for his immense patience in handling such a large group of photowalkers that day.
The first stop was the petrol pump on APC road that had replaced the famous Probasi magazine of the 1920s. Probasi, started by the eminent Ramananda Chatterjee, was a cult magazine of its times and ran successfully for over 60 years boasting of contributors like Rabindranath Tagore, Premendro Mitro, Bibhutibhusan Bandopadhyay and Nirad Chaudhuri to name a few.
The poignant poetry of a frail young sensitive lady called Toru Dutt has touched many hearts. She lies buried in the much neglected Manicktala Christian Cemetery along with the members of her family. Our walk transformed itself into an expression of our respect for the poetess, whose life ended rather prematurely , much like that of her siblings. The overgrown shrubbery around her humble grave, reminded us of how much has been forgotten and needs to be brought back to our contemporary memory.
An interesting stopover, albeit a brief one was the Police Museum- once the mansion of Raja Ram Mohan Roy no less. Early hours saw the museum itself closed to the public, but the sprawling premises which houses a lot of significant historical objects, specially from our pre- independence era.
The famous RamMohan Library loomed large at the corner of the 267 Acharya Prafulla Chandra Road. To think that this library witnessed the felicitation of the Bard of India soon after he had been awarded the Nobel Prize for the Gitanjali, was awe-inspiring. Tagore even recited from his anthology on this occasion attended by the literary gems of the time.
The other stops on the way were the original residence of the Ray family at Garpar Road- of Upendrakishore Roychoudhury, Sukumar Ray and Satyajit Ray fame.
Then a trip down memory lane to stop by the house which had seen the first publication of the most famous children’s magazine of the city Sandesh.
An uncooperative security guard could not dampen the enthusiasm of this army of photo enthusiasts who gathered at the residence of the hallowed IshwarChandra Vidyasagar, the man who gave the Bengali his Bornoporichoy, the alphabet book of the Bengali script.
To walk by 48 Kailash Bose Street (presently 48A, B and C) where the first legal widow marriage had been solemnised as initiated by Iswar Chandra Vidyasagar, was a memorable moment indeed.
But perhaps the highlight of the last leg of the journey was an exclusive tour of the Patra Bharati printing press , a name synonymous with the Kishore Bharati magazine, popular with every Bengali household.
It was an exhausting day- so much to see and so much to learn. But the memory of walking with Calcutta lovers is another experience in itself.
It is an incredible trait for any city to have so much of heritage condensed into one large area. But Calcutta is like that- she is ‘oitihjhoshaali’- enriched with the wealth of literary heritage.